By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – This is a case that the entire state is going to watch. Last week, the state—California Attorney General Rob Bonta, Governor Gavin Newsom, and the California Department of Housing and Community Development—filed a lawsuit that challenges Huntington Beach’s illegal ban on applications for SB 9 and ADU projects.
The state is also filing a motion to block enforcement of Huntington Beach’s illegal policies restricting SB 9 and ADU applications while litigation is ongoing.
On Tuesday evening, the Huntington Beach City Council declined to reverse its February 21 action banning the processing of applications for SB 9 projects and ADUs, which is in violation of multiple state housing laws. The City also introduced, but has not yet adopted, an ordinance purporting to exempt the City from the Builder’s Remedy.
The lawsuit comes after Bonta and HCD each issued multiple letters last month under their separate enforcement authorities, urging the Huntington Beach City Council to reject these unlawful and willful attempts to flout state housing laws, as both proposals directly threaten statewide efforts to increase the availability of low- to middle-income housing opportunities in the midst of a statewide housing crisis.
As the Vanguard has previously noted, it is unclear just how much of an impact SB 9 and the Builder’s Remedy will have on the housing crisis. But, in a way, this lawsuit is less about the impact on the housing crisis and more about sending a message that the state is going to vigorously enforce its new housing laws against local resistance.
The rhetoric coming from state officials signals that the state is going to fight any local intransigence.
“As our state faces an existential housing crisis, we won’t stand idly by as local governments knowingly flout state law meant to protect our communities and bring much needed affordable housing to the people of California,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Bonta added, “Huntington Beach’s latest moves fly in the face of the law, stifle affordable housing projects, and infringe on the rights of private property owners in their own community. Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Huntington Beach accountable for their knowing disregard for state housing law, and put a stop to their unlawful attempt to obstruct crucial projects that bring much needed additional housing to our communities. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When it comes to building affordable housing, we all have a part to play, and Huntington Beach is no exception.”
“Huntington Beach elected officials are the poster child for NIMBY-ism, and my Administration will take every measure necessary to hold communities accountable for their failure to build their fair share of housing,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “The housing crisis facing families across the state demands that all cities and counties do their part, and those that flagrantly violate state housing laws will be held to account.”
“California’s housing and homelessness crisis can only be resolved by communities proactively working to achieve housing security for residents of all income levels,” said HCD Director Gustavo Velasquez. “The Department of Housing and Community Development will exercise its full enforcement authority against those who would violate their sworn oath by working to circumvent state housing laws – up to and including legal remedies through our partners in the Office of the Attorney General.”
At Tuesday’s City Council Meeting, Huntington Beach also introduced a proposed ordinance that, if adopted, “would illegally exempt the city from the so-called Builder’s Remedy of the HAA, which streamlines approval of affordable housing projects in cities that do not have a compliant Housing Element.”
Attorney General Bonta and HCD have both separately sent letters warning the city that the proposed ordinance violates the HAA (Housing Accountability Act) and would harm the public by illegally blocking affordable housing projects for low- and middle-income residents.
Attorney General Bonta and HCD said that they will continue to closely monitor the progress of the proposed ordinance, and stand ready to take legal action should it be adopted.
Senate President pro Tempore Toni G. Atkins (D-San Diego), who authored the California HOME Act in 2021, also issued a strong statement last week.
“It’s disappointing to see communities like Huntington Beach attempt to eliminate a homeowner’s right to make decisions about their own property,” Atkins said. “SB 9, along with ADU law, was intended to give homeowners options and streamline the building process. These laws are options that can help folks build a granny flat to help a parent age in place, or allow someone to split their lot or turn a single-family home into a duplex, thus creating not only more housing, but intergenerational wealth for families.”
Senator Scott Wiener added, “When we pass state housing laws, we mean it. Huntington Beach’s disgraceful & illegal move to exempt itself from state housing law will not stand.”
This becomes an interesting test. On the one hand, the state has now shown they are willing to take extensive measures to enforce the newly-passed state laws.
On the other hand, we have seen courts continue to undermine housing efforts by continuing to expand the understanding of laws like CEQA that have been used to block housing projects.
Will the courts side with the state or local communities on issues of local land use?